Jane Clements and dog looking out over a river at sunset

Supporting someone recovering from an emotionally abusive relationship

Don’t ever underestimate the impact that somebody else’s previous trauma can have on your relationship with them. 

Whether it’s a partner, friend or family member we may find ourselves trying to deal with unwanted emotional outbursts. Anger and withdrawal are just two behaviours that might occur unexpectedly when they are triggered by something and these can be unsettling and disturbing for both parties.  You might want to suggest that they share their problems with a coach, counsellor or a mentor (click here), but there are ways that you can help and also protect yourself

The problem is that the person who’s the one who is acting out their emotions may or may not be aware of;

  1.  how their emotions are affecting their inappropriate behaviour
  2.  the fact that something has triggered them or
  3.  how their behaviour impacts on other people. 

As the person on the receiving end you may find yourself reacting with anger, anxiety or adjusting your own behaviour in order to keep things calm.  You might be confused about how best to help your partner or friend cope and you might find that boundaries are stretched and behaviours excused. 

This is a huge topic but in this article I want to cover some of the main things that you can do to protect yourself and to help the other person.

How past events influence us

Extreme trauma such as abuse, bullying in school and domestic violence are sadly very common and the effects can continue for much of our lives.  Equally, negative beliefs which have been formed in childhood also have the power to shape our actions.  

Sometimes we bury those memories, consciously or unconsciously, and at other times we believe that we’ve dealt with them.  Often we have no idea what’s triggered our emotions although mindfulness practice can help with this.  Practising mindfulness doesn’t mean living in a happy bubble and turning the other cheek, but it’s about being aware of your emotions and choosing whether you’re going to allow them to affect you negatively.

When you are the one recovering from an emotionally abusive relationship

Being aware of these three points and acting accordingly will not only affect others around you but will also reduce the impact on your own mental and physical health.

How emotions influence unwanted behaviours

Learning how our thoughts can become feelings and then how those feelings have the ability to influence our actions is key.  Once we understand this link and more importantly we understand that we have a choice whether to act out or not can be a game-changer.  Periods of calm tend to be longer and outbursts lessen.  We become more confident in our own abilities and our self esteem improves.

Learning that something is a trigger and taking time to identify it

Taking the previous point a step further, we can learn how to go back in time and attempt to identify why and how we’re triggered.  We can question the truth of our thoughts and learn how to deal with the emotions.  To understand how carrying these subconscious triggers affects our emotional and physical health means that we then have the ability to move forward – again growing our self belief and treating ourselves and others with kindness.  

Be aware of how our behaviour affects others – and more importantly – do something about

We all know that stomping about in a rage will upset others but once we understand where that rage originates from and how it also affects us makes it easier to diffuse it. 

It’s true that anger shouldn’t be bottled up but there are ways of releasing it in a positive way – this is the same for all negative emotions such as sadness and anxiety.  We can learn how to direct the negative emotions in a different direction.

If you’re the partner or friend of someone who has been affected by trauma

When your partner or friend is the one who is affected by things from their past there are many ways to support them.  Some of the most useful are described here.

Believe your partner

One of the first things to say is that you should believe your partner.  And by this, not only believing that the events that have affected them are true but more importantly believing them when they describe their emotions to you.  

It may have taken a huge leap of faith for somebody to confide something to you that they find shameful, embarrassing or hurtful so listen with compassion and empathy.

You might find it hard to understand and you might have some disbelief but please don’t dismiss or deny that what you are being told is not possible. 

It’s also important not to diminish the emotional impact that the event has had on your friend.  We all describe our emotions differently and use different words.  One person might use the term ‘anxious’, another might say ‘terrified’ and a third might call a situation ‘painful’ while you yourself attach different levels of meaning to these descriptions. 

Listen with an open mind and heart and listen with your intuition.  ‘Feel’ what you are being told and empathise with them.  Once we understand the extent of how a past event has affected somebody else we can at least understand why they sometimes behave as they do.

Don’t ever underestimate the impact that somebody else’s previous trauma can have on your relationship with them. 

Whether it’s a partner, friend or family member we may find ourselves trying to deal with unwanted emotional outbursts. Anger and withdrawal are just two behaviours that might occur unexpectedly when they are triggered by something and these can be unsettling and disturbing for both parties.  

The problem is that the person who’s the one who is acting out their emotions may or may not be aware of;

  1.  how their emotions are affecting their inappropriate behaviour
  2.  the fact that something has triggered them or
  3.  how their behaviour impacts on other people. 

As the person on the receiving end you may find yourself reacting with anger, anxiety or adjusting your own behaviour in order to keep things calm.  You might be confused about how best to help your partner or friend cope and you might find that boundaries are stretched and behaviours excused. 

This is a huge topic but in this article I want to cover some of the main things that you can do to protect yourself and to help the other person.

How past events influence us

Extreme trauma such as abuse, bullying in school and domestic violence are sadly very common and the effects can continue for much of our lives.  Equally, negative beliefs which have been formed in childhood also have the power to shape our actions.  

Sometimes we bury those memories, consciously or unconsciously, and at other times we believe that we’ve dealt with them.  Often we have no idea what’s triggered our emotions although mindfulness practice can help with this.  Practising mindfulness doesn’t mean living in a happy bubble and turning the other cheek, but it’s about being aware of your emotions and choosing whether you’re going to allow them to affect you negatively.

When you are the one recovering from an emotionally abusive relationship

Being aware of these three points and acting accordingly will not only affect others around you but will also reduce the impact on your own mental and physical health.

How emotions influence unwanted behaviours

Learning how our thoughts can become feelings and then how those feelings have the ability to influence our actions is key.  Once we understand this link and more importantly we understand that we have a choice whether to act out or not can be a game-changer.  Periods of calm tend to be longer and outbursts lessen.  We become more confident in our own abilities and our self esteem improves.

Learning that something is a trigger and taking time to identify it

Taking the previous point a step further, we can learn how to go back in time and attempt to identify why and how we’re triggered.  We can question the truth of our thoughts and learn how to deal with the emotions.  To understand how carrying these subconscious triggers affects our emotional and physical health means that we then have the ability to move forward – again growing our self belief and treating ourselves and others with kindness.  

Be aware of how our behaviour affects others – and more importantly – do something about

We all know that stomping about in a rage will upset others but once we understand where that rage originates from and how it also affects us makes it easier to diffuse it. 

It’s true that anger shouldn’t be bottled up but there are ways of releasing it in a positive way – this is the same for all negative emotions such as sadness and anxiety.  We can learn how to direct the negative emotions in a different direction.

If you’re the partner or friend of someone who has been affected by trauma

When your partner or friend is the one who is affected by things from their past there are many ways to support them.  Some of the most useful are described here.

Believe your partner

One of the first things to say is that you should believe your partner.  And by this, not only believing that the events that have affected them are true but more importantly believing them when they describe their emotions to you.  

It may have taken a huge leap of faith for somebody to confide something to you that they find shameful, embarrassing or hurtful so listen with compassion and empathy.

You might find it hard to understand and you might have some disbelief but please don’t dismiss or deny that what you are being told is not possible. 

It’s also important not to diminish the emotional impact that the event has had on your friend.  We all describe our emotions differently and use different words.  One person might use the term ‘anxious’, another might say ‘terrified’ and a third might call a situation ‘painful’ while you yourself attach different levels of meaning to these descriptions. 

Listen with an open mind and heart and listen with your intuition.  ‘Feel’ what you are being told and empathise with them.  Once we understand the extent of how a past event has affected somebody else we can at least understand why they sometimes behave as they do.

Set acceptable boundaries

Just because somebody has experienced trauma in their past doesn’t mean that you should accept inappropriate behaviour from them.  There needs to be a distinct line between supporting somebody and not allowing them to take out their anger on you.

When you feel upset, anxious or you find yourself biting your tongue or changing your behaviour then it’s time to sit down and set some boundaries.

 This might mean that the other person has to learn techniques to manage their emotions such as going out for a run when they feel angry, how to meditate or how to come to terms with their past. An excellent way to move forward from a trauma is to forgive although personally I prefer to use the term to release. It’s not about forgiving (or releasing) the person who may have caused the initial harm but about releasing yourself from carrying the guilt and shame about with you. 

This leads us nicely onto the next point which is to be sure not to make everything about ourselves.

Don’t take things personally

Once acceptable boundaries have been put into place and once we understand how and why a person acts out when they do, we must remember that we are in charge of our own emotions.  We choose how to react.  We choose whether to make things about us or whether to recognise that this is about the other person.  

When we’re at ease with ourselves and when we have a good level of self esteem, we don’t allow everything to become about us.  We can recognise that we haven’t done anything wrong or provoked somebody else to act or to feel as they do.  They do it to themselves in the same way that we allow ourselves to be influenced by others.  We are not responsible for somebody else’s emotional health so long as we always act with integrity and with good intentions.

Take a step back

It can be hard to take a step back when we know that we have the knowledge and the tools to help someone, but we also need to take a step back and give the other person enough space to heal themselves.

We can’t heal anybody else – they have to work through the trauma themselves.  We can however offer support, guidance and acceptance.  Being non-judgmental and open minded and listening and simply ‘being’ with the other person should never be underestimated. 

With responsibility comes empowerment.  No matter how much counselling or help a person is given they MUST accept the situation for themselves and they must want to move forward.  Not everybody wants to or is ready to do so.  Our concept of identity is underpinned by events from our past and it can be scary to confront and expose them. 

Time is a healer but time alone is usually not enough.  If you are dealing with unwanted emotions that originate from the past or you are trying to support somebody who is, drop me a message and I will be very happy to chat things through and try to help. 

To make sure that you don’t miss this or any other articles, sign up via the attached link (you will also receive a useful guide about remaining positive)

Click this link to sign up

If you would like to chat with me and dig a little deeper about this or any other related matter, you can book a free discovery session with me via this link. (if none of the times are suitable, drop me a message and we can arrange something to suit you.) 

I have only touched on a few things in this article but future articles may include information about dealing with anger and learning to move on from the past.

What has been the best way that you have been able to support somebody who is recovering from trauma in their past?

Just because somebody has experienced trauma in their past doesn’t mean that you should accept inappropriate behaviour from them.  There needs to be a distinct line between supporting somebody and not allowing them to take out their anger on you.

When you feel upset, anxious or you find yourself biting your tongue or changing your behaviour then it’s time to sit down and set some boundaries.

 This might mean that the other person has to learn techniques to manage their emotions such as going out for a run when they feel angry, how to meditate or how to come to terms with their past. An excellent way to move forward from a trauma is to forgive although personally I prefer to use the term to release. It’s not about forgiving (or releasing) the person who may have caused the initial harm but about releasing yourself from carrying the guilt and shame about with you. 

This leads us nicely onto the next point which is to be sure not to make everything about ourselves.

Don’t take things personally

Once acceptable boundaries have been put into place and once we understand how and why a person acts out when they do, we must remember that we are in charge of our own emotions.  We choose how to react.  We choose whether to make things about us or whether to recognise that this is about the other person.  

When we’re at ease with ourselves and when we have a good level of self esteem, we don’t allow everything to become about us.  We can recognise that we haven’t done anything wrong or provoked somebody else to act or to feel as they do.  They do it to themselves in the same way that we allow ourselves to be influenced by others.  We are not responsible for somebody else’s emotional health so long as we always act with integrity and with good intentions.

Take a step back

It can be hard to take a step back when we know that we have the knowledge and the tools to help someone, but we also need to take a step back and give the other person enough space to heal themselves.

We can’t heal anybody else – they have to work through the trauma themselves.  We can however offer support, guidance and acceptance.  Being non-judgmental and open minded and listening and simply ‘being’ with the other person should never be underestimated. 

With responsibility comes empowerment.  No matter how much counselling or help a person is given they MUST accept the situation for themselves and they must want to move forward.  Not everybody wants to or is ready to do so.  Our concept of identity is underpinned by events from our past and it can be scary to confront and expose them. 

Time is a healer but time alone is usually not enough.  If you are dealing with unwanted emotions that originate from the past or you are trying to support somebody who is, drop me a message and I will be very happy to chat things through and try to help. 

To make sure that you don’t miss this or any other articles, sign up via the attached link (you will also receive a useful guide about remaining positive)

Click this link to sign up

If you would like to chat with me and dig a little deeper about this or any other related matter, you can book a free discovery session with me via this link. (if none of the times are suitable, drop me a message and we can arrange something to suit you.) 

I have only touched on a few things in this article but future articles may include information about dealing with anger and learning to move on from the past.

What has been the best way that you have been able to support somebody who is recovering from trauma in their past?

Posted in emotional development.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *